Real Madrid 2-3 Barcelona: match report
As far as Clásicos in recent memory, this one has to go down as one of the very, very best. Lionel Messi has already cemented himself in the pantheon of greats but tonight he etched his name in that cement.
It was a game that started the same way it ended, at break-neck speed, saw five goals with three lead changes, a red card, a swath of missed chances and one moment of genius from Lionel Messi.
Barcelona were lucky not to have conceded a penalty in the opening minutes when Samuel Umtiti caught Cristiano Ronaldo's leg as he beat him to the ball inside the box. Shortly after that, Casemiro got a yellow card for chopping down Messi, which would put the Brazilian on a tightrope he would walk on for the rest of the game.
Casemiro was the man who gave Real Madrid the lead on 28 minutes after Sergio Ramos' shot hit the post and rebounded to him before he poked home for a handy finish. After a nervous start, Barcelona had gotten into the game but this seemed to deflate them completely. They looked every bit the fragile team that had just been knocked out of the Champions League midweek.
Real Madrid picked the wrong night to pick an early fight though because Lionel Messi went up the field just five minutes later and turned Dani Carvajal inside out before he slid under Navas to level the score after 33 minutes.
Casemiro had another foul late on Messi and the referee thought long and hard before deciding to give the midfielder one more chance. Half-time came and went with no changes on either side and with the game poised for someone to take control.
It seemed as though Ivan Rakitic would be the hero when he drove a left-footed shot beyond Keylor Navas on 73 minutes after several excellent stops from Navas and Ter Stegen and some poor misses from either side.
It seemed written in stone after Sergio Ramos lunged in on Lionel Messi with two feet off the ground and studs showing. He recieved his marching orders and Real Madrid were down to ten men for the last 13 minutes. James Rordiguez took to the field and changed everything though. He turned home a Marcelo cross at the front post to level matters having been on the field for just four minutes with 86 on the clock and created a number of chances with Rakitic's name scribbled out of the headlines and replaced by the Colombian's.
Cometh the man, cometh the hour though and if there were headlines to be made, it would be Lionel Messi who would grab them. Barcelona broke with no time remaining and Marcelo had a chance to pull down Sergi Roberto but the Spaniard continued on. He gave the ball to Andre Gomes, who found Alba and he pulled it back to Messi, who fired beyond Navas before taking off his shirt and showing the Santiago Bernabeú his name on the back.
They already knew it though.
Barcelona are top of the league and Real Madrid are left scratching their heads as to how they lost this one. It will be a tough task for Zinedine Zidane's side to pick themselves up after this and with a game in hand against Celta Vigo, it is not plain sailing for los Blancos.
Real Madrid 2-3 Barcelona: second half
FT: Game over. That was the last kick of the game.
Min 90+2 | GOAL! GOAL! GOAL! GOAL! Lionel Messi finishes beyond Navas. Sergi Roberto broke. Got the ball to Gomes, and he passed to Alba before he pulled it back to the Argentine. What a finished. What a game! What a player!
Min 90+1 | Andre Gomes fouls Asensio as we have just two minutes of added time. That very well could be it.
Min 89 | Another chance for Real Madrid as Marcelo gets on the end of a James cross. Ter Stegen gathers. Another chance just moments after as Asensio drives one at Ter Stegen. He saves again.
Min 87 | Real Madrid are going for the winner. Asensio plays it to James, but Ronaldo intervenes and stops it before getting it out to its rightful owner. He shots, has it blocked and then hits the rebound, which Ter Stegen saves.
Min 86 | GOAL! GOAL! GOAL! James Rodriguez puts a Mrcelo cross beyond Ter Stegen. The man had not chance as the Colombian struck with his left foot. 2-2 now and the Bernabeú is alive and kicking!
Min 83 | Marcelo pulls down Rakitic and Barcelona squeeze another couple of precious seconds off the clock. Free in a dangerous position but it comes to nothing.
Min 83 | Messi has a crack now after going around Kroos. Navas equal to it yet again.
Min 82 | Kovacic booked now for taking down Lionel Messi. The poor Argentine will be sore in the morning.
Real Madrid substitution: James Rodriguez replaces Karim Benzema.
Min 80 | Wow! What a game. Gomes puts the ball on a plate to Piqué, who is about two yards out and drives it straight at Navas. Up the other end and Ronaldo has a shot but it goes over. He wants a corner but referee says goalkick and he is livid.
Min 79 | Barcelona win a corner now. Rakitic gives it short to Iniesta.
Min 77 | RED CARD! It's all going wrong now for Real Madrid as Sergio Ramos has been sent off for diving in with two feet off the ground. He didn't catch Messi but you simply can't jump in like that. He has a word with Piqué as he walks off the field. Zinedine Zidane will now face a defensive conundrum on Wednesday, with Nacho the only available centre half for the trip to Depor.
Min 74 | The Bernabeú is singing now as they try to get the team back into this one. Although, they are not really out of it. The game is a pure attacking feast with neither side capable of defending well enough to shut this one out. I would expect more goals.
Min 73 | GOAL! Oh my word. What a finish. Ivan Rakitic gets on the end of a ball at the edge of the box. He could not have hit that any sweeter if he was there for another 900 minutes. Left footed effort that Navas has no chance of saving.
Min 72 | People were questioning these two goalkeepers. Ter Stegen just made another world class save from Marco Asensio after Kovacic puts him through.
Barcelona substitution: Andre Gomes replaces Paco Alcacer.
Real Madrid substitution: Mateo Kovacic comes on for Casemiro.
Min 68 | Barcelona straight up the other end and Luis Suárez with a shot from point blank range but Navas somehow keeps it out. What a performance from the Costa Rican. Corner to Barça. The game is kicking back into gear here.
Min 67 | Marco Asensio goes through on goal as Benzema puts him in. He decides to pass to Ronaldo instead of going alone and the ball just does not rolly kindly to the Portuguese attacker. He fires over.
Min 66 | Asensio with a cross as Ronaldo tries a chilena. He completely mishits it.
Min 64 | Proceedings have gotten a little sloppy now in the last couple of minutes. After some really good chances for either side early in the second half, neither team really contolling this one now. Plenty of misplaced passes in the last five.
Min 62 | Dani Carvajal and Luis Suárez being brough in after a little bit of afters. Modric fouled and Suárez tries to reach it but Carvajal pulls him back and the Barca striker swings a kick at the ball.
Min 59 | An absolutely gem of a cross by Rakitic and Piqué with the most delicate of glancing headers but Navas saves again. Two absolute brutal defenses on show here today. Every single time either team attacks, it could and many times should, be a goal!
Min 58 | Messi plays Suárez through but his touch is just too heavy as it rolls to Navas. Barcelona opening up Real Madrid now.
Min 57 | Messi fouled again by.....Marcelo this time. Casemiro was in the vicinity but the referee points at the left-back as the culprit. Messi's free goes high and over the bar.
Min 56 | Alcacer gets put through by a sneaky little touch from Rakitic as he changes the direction of an Alba ball into the box. Navas saves with his feet. What a chance!
Min 55 | Barcelona don't seem sure as to what they're doing in the middle of the field. A breakdown in communication again as Rakitic moves the wrong way and the ball passes him by.
Min 54 | What a save! Marcelo raiding down the left and he puts a cross into the mixer. Benzema gets a header to it and the German saves again with a wonderful save with his foot. He is keeping Barcelona in this one.
Min 52 | A dreadful kick-out by Ter Stegen gifts it to Carvajal. Real Madrid try to build but Busquets gets it and is fouled by Ramos. He doesn't think it was a foul but the ref pulls him in for a word.
Min 49 | Quick corner again from Real Madrid as Marcelo takes it from Kroos and gives it straight back to him but Sergio Ramos is offside from the cross.
Min 48 | Carvajal with a cross field ball to Marcelo. He eyes up Rakitic before playing it to Kroos. The German forces a save from Ter Stegen. Corner.
Min 47 | Carvajal raiding down the right. Piqué gets there just in time and puts it out for a corner. Real Madrid are lethal from set-pieces But Suárez heads away at the front post.
Min 46 | We are back underway with not changes for either side.
Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona: first half summary
A lively first half if nothing else. Real Madrid started way better and both sides have been giving up huge chances but it wasn't really the goals that have caused the biggest stir. Ronaldo was taken down in the first minute by Umtiti but the referee said to play away and replays suggested that it was indeed a penalty.
Casemiro has fouled Messi now three times and you have to imagine that the next time he will be sent off. He chopped him down to size early on and was booked but since then has done it twice with Barcelona players pleading with the ref that the last one, in particular, was a second yellow and replays suggest it was.
Meanwhile, Messi had his lip cut open by an elbow from Marcelo but it would be unfair to suggest that it was deliberate. It did take Messi out of the game for a few minutes and he even had to hold a tissue up to his mouth for a few minutes as he tried to pull the strings. Meanwhile, Gareth Bale lastes just 35 minutes before being subbed off with a calf injury.
Casemiro, when he was not trying to slow Messi down got the opener after Sergio Ramos hit the post with a shot. Just minutes later, Messi equalised with a moment of absolute genius. All to play for at the Bernabeú with so many talking points in the first half alone.
Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona: first half
HT: The referee blows the whistle as we have plenty to discuss at the break.
Min 45+2 | Alba tries to get the ball across to Suárez but Nacho gets a block before going over on his knee as it looked to have buckled. He is back up though. The resulting corner sees Dani Carvajal pull Luis Suárez down but it falls to Messi at the back post and he can not turn it in. What a chance.
Min 45+1 | Casemiro is a very, very lucky man. He fouls Messi again and the referee thinks about it long and hard before he decides not to book the Brazilian for the second time. Barcelona want a yellow but the referee is not reaching for his pocket.
Min 43 | Umtiti to Iniesta, who finds Messi. He plays it to Suárez down the right and Suárez' cross finds Jordi Alba but he can't make clean enough contact on the ball. Goalkick.
Min 41 | Lionel Messi almost makes it 2-1 Luárez wins the ball back and a failed clearance by Nacho falls to the Argentine. He strikes just wide. It hit Dani Carvajal but the referee says goalkick.
Real Madrid substitution: Marco Asensio replaces Gareth Bale.
Min 39 | A little bit of argy-bargy now as Umtiti goes for the ball and catches Ronaldo's ankle. Yellow for the defender. Free for Real Madrid.
Min 38 | We have a stoppage now as Gareth Bale foes down holding his calf. He limps off and last 35 minutes into his return from injury.
Min 36 | Straight up the other end, Modric absolute rifles a shot that forces an excellent save from Ter Stegen.
Min 36 | For the second time in as many minutes, Real Madrid with a breakdown in defense and Luis Suárez jumps on it but he can't make it count yet again.
Min 35 | Ramos with a sloppy ball across the back that Suárez jumps on. Iniesta with an equally sloppy ball as he tries to find Suárez again.
Min 33 | GOAL! GOAL! GOAL! Lionel Messi is an absolute magician. he goes by Dani Carvajal like he wasn't there and he slots home beyond Navas. Great finish and one that Barcelona needed because Real Madrid were growing in confidence.
Min 32 | Casemiro needs to be careful. He fouls Messi again.
Min 30 | Piqué drives forward to the whistles of the Bernabeú crowd. he gets it out to Messi but he can't find a Barcelona player. Real Madrid trying to take the sting out of Barcelona's response here.
Min 28 | GOAL! Ter Stegen jumps with Piqué for the corner and boxes it only as far as Marcelo. He puts the ball into the box again and Sergio Ramos gets a foot to it. It hits the post and bounces out to Casemiro, who finished with ease. All too easy for Real Madrid there.
Min 28 | Sergi Roberto gives the ball away as Real Madrid break again with Modric launching it towards Ronaldo. He plays it to Bale but Piqué dives in and gets the ball away from the Welsh man.
Min 26 | Benzema is in the same boat now as Busquets gives it away. Ronaldo passes it to him but he can't decide whether to shoot, pass it back to Ronaldo or do something else. In the end he does nothing.
Min 25 | Alcacer down the left with acres of space but Carvajal gets back in time to stop him. Alcacer didn't make a decision quick enough and he wasn't entirely sure whether to keep going or turn around and start again. He ends up losing it instead.
Min 24 | Ronaldo with a chance now as Marcelo throws a pass across the penalty area. Ronaldo turns inside and shoots high and wide with his left foot. Messi has rejoined the action and has a tissue pushed up to his mouth with his hand.
Min 23 | Gareth Bale gets put in over the top and he tries to get a flick on it but it rolls into Ter Stegen.
Min 22 | Messi is lying on the ground up the other end and the referee has to stop play as he is pumping blood from his mouth, it looks like. Replays show that Marcelo caught him with a stray elbow but it is really hard to believe that it was deliberate.
Min 21 | Ronaldo steps inside Piqué and gets a shot away. Ter Stegen gets a strong hand to it and beats it away.
Min 20 | Possession is 57% in Barcelona's favour at the moment despite good early start by the home side.
Min 18 | Modric plays Benzema in as Real Madrid start to operate on the counter-attack but Benzema's shot turns into a routine save for Ter Stegen. He launches the ball forward as Barcelona try their own style of counter-attack. Alcacer with his first touch, plays it to Suárez but his volley is way off.
Min 17 | Messi runs a neat little ring around Casemiro and then leaves Modric for dead before trying to play Rakitic in. It goes just too far to the left and Carvajal pokes it back to Navas, who clears.
Min 15 | Ball in over the top to Alcacer is way too long. It lands to Navas, who is delighted with the handy catch. Barcelona need to rethink that long ball strategy.
Min 12 | Lionel Messi turns Casemiro inside out before he absolutely scythes him down and gets a yellow card. Very early for a player of Casemiro's style to get a yellow. Meanwhile a ball back to Navas nearly goes wrong and Barcelona pounce byt the keeper gets it away.
Min 11 | Out ball to Alba looks to be on every time. He gets it, squares to Suárez and he fires just inches wide of Navas' post.
Min 10 | Barcelona slowly growing into this one. Iniesta has a shot after a decent little spell of possession by the visiting side. It is blocked out to Alba but there is too much pace on it and it beats him. throw to Barcelona.
Min 8 | Casemiro reaches in and gets a flick on the ball but takes Luis Suárez down in the process. No free but the Uruguayan stays down. Looked like a free but the ref is lwtting plenty go so far.
Min 7 | Gareth Bale put through now but he is offside.
Min 6 | Iniesta on the attack but he loses it after being swarmed by Real Madrid players. Ronaldo is put through and he makes it to the ball before Piqué. He cuts inside and lets fly with his left foot. Ter Stegen gets his body behind it as it bounces up into him.
Min 4 | Ronaldo with a swift stepover before he releases Carvajal down the right. The right-back does the right thing and lifts it into the dangerzone but there were no Real Madrid players in there to get on the end of it. Barcelona are living on the edge. Real Madrid bossing possession early on.
Min 2 | The first talking point of El Clásico. Carvajal drills a cross into the box, Umtiti waits for it and Ronaldo steals in to get the ball before the defender. Umtiti caught his leg and Ronaldo went down inside the box. Looked like it was a penalty but the referee did not as much as blink.
Min 1 | Toni Kroos trying to test Barça's concentration early on with a ball in behind the back to Ronaldo. It was always bending away from him though. Throw to the visitors.
Min 1 | We are underway!
Real Madrid vs Barcelona: team news
Real Madrid XI: Navas, Carvajal, Ramos, Nacho, Ronaldo, Kroos, Benzema, Bale, Marcelo, Casemiro, Modric.
Barcelona XI: Ter Stegen, Roberto, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta, Alcacer, Messi, Suárez.
Real Madrid vs Barcelona live stream online: latest news
20:44 | Sergio Garcia out with his green jacket as he embarces Sergio Ramos, shakes hands with Iniesta before he swipes a left-footed kick at the ball.
20:37 | We can't use them here but for the first time ever (based on my memory) we have emojis on Twitter for the players. They may of may not actually resemble the players but it's a nice idea.
20:32 | Lionel Messi has not scored in his last six games against Real Madrid. The last time he did score though was a hat-trick on March 24th 2014 when Barcelona beat their rivals 4-3 in an epic battle.
20:30 | We also have a little three-way race going on for Pichichi with the top three in action in El Clásico. Lionel Messi is running away with it now but Ronaldo is fond of a hat-trick or 32 to be exact.
Lionel Messi - 29
Luis Suarez - 23
Cristiano Ronaldo - 19
20:25 | Keylor Navas might not be a fan of playing Barcelona. He has conceded 15 goals against them which is six more than against any other team in the league.
20:22 | Lionel Messi has won more points with his goals than any other LaLiga player this season (17 points with 29 goals). Alvara Morata is third (13 points with 12 goals).
20:19 | Real Madrid have scored in 55 games on the trot. They have scored in 43 LaLiga games in a row and the only other Spanish team to do so in more was Barcelona in 2013 when they scored in 64 consecutive league games.
20:11 | This, of course, if Ronaldo's first time back at the Bernabeú since he was whistled against Bayern Munich. He asked the crowd to quieten down that night and his manager Zinedine Zidane said he always appears when Real Madrid need him the most. They really need him today.
20:04 | Andres Iniesta has not scored a league goal for Barcelona in 519 days. The stage is for the little manchego to pop up with a winner today to keep Barça's hopes of a league title alive. He's keen on a late and important winner!
20:02 | The lack of Neymar also means that Dani Carvajal will not be as subdued as Barcelona might like. A look at the teams news in some closer detail.
19:53 | Andres Iniesta has the most El Clásico appearences of those playing today. He has played in 34. Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi have both played in 33.
19:49 | Some photos popping in now of Sergio Garcia arriving with his green jacket. the man of the moment, for a moment. It's all about football today! i'm sure he is just as nervous about the game too, being a Madridista.
19:44 | Barcelona's team news has shocked, pretty much, nobody. The only change, which is a required one, is that Alcacer starts instead of Neymar. The problems that stem form that include just how both him and Luis suárez co-exist. Messi will drop but the remaining two attacker play in similar roles and will want to occupy the same space. Suárez might be more adept at dropping out to the right but that negates his poaching ability in the box. The lack of pace and width that Neymar provides will be sorely missed.
19:42 | Isco will have to feel hard done by. He has been excellent in Bale's absence and won them the last game in LaLiga when he scored to give Real Madrid a 3-2 win over Sporting Gijón.
19:39 | Zidane has picked the same team every expected him to with that one surprise. Gareth Bale has streamlined his recovery process and makes it back in time for El Clásico. Will this be a Diego Costa in the Champions League 2013-14 effort when he recovered but came off shortly into the game?
19:35 | Lucas Vazquez posted quite the emtional message on social media about his love for Real Madrid. The kid grew up supporting the club he now plays for.
19:31 | Both Luis Enrique and Zinedine Zidane are aware of the importance of this game. Luis Enrique says, "It is a decisive game with the competition nearing its end, it could almost end the league or leave the door open". Zidane knows that games such as El Clásico take on rules of their own when he said, "If we believe that Barcelona’s elimination from the Champions League will influence the game, I think we’re wrong. We know we’re up against a very good team."
19:18 | Gareth Bale has played in just seven of Real Madrid's last 19 LaLiga games. He missed eight with an ankle injury. Then he was sent off and suspended for two games before missing time recently with a calf strain. The most recent injury is a result of the layoff from the ankle injury but he pushed himself to the limit to return, despite his doctors advising against such a course of action.
19:11 | Early word is that Paco Alcacer starts in place of Neymar. We will fill you in as we hear more. There are also reports that Gareth Bale has regained full fitness and will start El Clásico.
19:03 | Zinedine Zidane is unbeaten as the manager of Real Madrid in his two Clásicos to date. He has a long history with the fixutre. Here is a look back at his very last Clásico wearing the white shirt of Real Madrid.
18:59 | Lionel Messi sits atop the Clásico all-time leading goalscorers chart with 21. Alfredo Di Stefano is second with 18 and Cristiano Ronaldo is third with 16. One other active player, Karim Benzema (8), is in the top 10.
18:50 | He would never admit it but Gerard Piqué quite enjoys visiting the Santiago Bernabeú. He has lost just three times on 13 visits to Madrid's hallowed ground. He has won over 50% of those games with seven victories and three draws.
18:41 | If you were wondering whether Zinezine Zidane should start Karim Benzema today or not, just remember that the French striker has scored five goals in his last five Clásicos at the Santiago Bernabeú.
18:29 | Real Madrid have not lost in the last two El Clásico La Liga games with a win and a draw, which is their best unbeaten run since March 2013, under now-Manchester United manager, Jose Mourinho.
18:23 | Toni Kroos is Zinedine Zidane's most trusted player with 3,451 minutes played this season. Second to the german is Cristiano Ronaldo with 3,412 and Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo making up the top five.
Barcelona can count on Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi as their two with the most minutes. Suárez has 3,863 minutes under his belt this season with Messi on 3,849. Ter Stegen, Neymar and Busquets round out their top five.
18:12 | Real Madrid just shade Barcelona with 17.4 shots on target (Barcelona have 17.2).
18:09 | Barcelona are the kings of possession in LaLiga with 62% across the whole season. Real Madrid, who have moved to replace their defensive and counter style, are fourth behind Las Palmas and Sevilla with 55.8%.
18:03 | Luis Enrique has lost 13 games in 108 efforts in LaLiga.
17:54 | Zinedine Zidane has lost three games out of 51 as the manager of Real Madrid in LaLiga. He has picked up 128 points from a possible 153.
17:46 | The last time both LaLiga Clásicos finished in draws was the 2002-03 season when it ended 0-0 and 1-1. Brazilian Ronaldo scored for Real Madrid and Luis Enrique equalised in the 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu that year.
17:40 | Andres Iniesta has played over 600 times for Barcelona and has played in 23 Clásicos in the league. He has been on the losing side of the game seven times with four of those defeats coming at the Santiago Bernabeú.
17:32 | In terms of team selection, both Zidane and Luis Enrique have their first choice midfields available to them today. The last Clásico saw two weakened midfields with Gomes starting for Barcelona and both Isco and Kovacic starting for Real Madrid. Tonight, we will see both sides trying to assert themselves on proceedings in the middle and for Barcelona, having Iniesta will mean they can be for more proactive than they are without him.
17:24 | Real Madrid have scored in 43 of their last games in LaLiga. Only Barcelona in 2013 have a better record when they hit the back of the net 64 times in a row.
17:07 | Barça have released their squad to finally put the Neymar case to bed (Spoiler Alert: He wont!) but Arda Turan is back in the squad along with youngster Carles Aleña.
Barcelona squad: Ter Stegen, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio, Denis, Arda, A. Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Cillessen, Mascherano, Paco Alcácer, Jordi Alba, Digne, Sergi Roberto , André Gomes, Aleix Vidal -travels with the squad- Umtiti, Aleñá.
17:00 | While we're on the subject of Iniesta, check out five pieces of mesmerising El Clásico skill from the midfield maestro.
16:45 | Iniesta's last goal in LaLiga came 519 days ago against... yep, Real Madrid. The previous one came 609 days before, versus... Los Blancos in the Bernabéu! What are the odds?
15:50 | After marauding down the touchline (and through the centre) to cause Bayern all number of problems on Tuesday, Marcelo is set to play game 401 this evening, equalling the record of another Madrid legend.
15:20 | After Madrid beat Bayern to progress through to the semi-finals of the Champions League on Tuesday, all the talk has been about the referees and Los Blancos getting the rub of the green. Here's Luka Modric's view.
14:40 | What does the AS Oracle reckon is gonna go down at the Bernabéu tonight?
13:55 | Real Madrid are currently resting up ahead of El Clásico at their plush training-ground first-team residence. Mind you, their trip from the Bernabéu to Valdebebas didn't go completely without a hitch...
13:15 | Here's all the info you need if you're planning on accompanying our live feed of events at the Bernabéu with sounds and moving pictures.
12:40 | AS journalist and number-one Real Madrid fan Tomás Roncero has offered his thoughts on tonight's El Clásico. It's fair to say he's in bullish mood...
12:15 | As for Real Madrid, Gareth Bale is back in the squad, but Raphael Varane isn't fit enough to be included despite returning to training this week.
12:10 | A reminder that Barcelona's squad in the end doesn't include Neymar, with the Catalan club confirming the Brazilian won't travel in a statement earlier this morning. Arda Turan, meanwhile, returns to the league champions' matchday group.
11:10 | Once you've looked over that breaking news on Neymar, why not allow yourself a perusal of our match preview below?
10:55 | This morning's chief news is that, after all the to-ing and fro-ing surrounding Barcelona's appeal against Neymar's three-match suspension, the Brazilian has finally been left out of Luis Enrique's squad.
10:20 | Good morning! We're told there's a football match tonight...
Real Madrid vs Barcelona: match preview
In a game that is never short of narratives and plot points, Luis Enrique and Zinedine Zidane go head-to-head (not for the first time) in what is Luis Enrique's final Clásico as the manager of Barcelona. Zidane is hoping he is involved in plenty more and winning on Sunday at the Santiago Bernabeú will be a good start to ensuring he is in Real Madrid's dugout for the long haul.
The usual mind games have started but all has been quiet from Madrid as they know it is them in pole position to land a killer blow to a vulnerable Barcelona side. They finished the return fixture in the Camp Nou level with a Sergio Ramos equalising at the death.
The two sides, who were neck and neck in LaLiga and competing for top honours in Europe endured two contrasting weeks with Barcelona losing to Málaga two weekends ago and then being knocked out of the Champions League by Juventus while Real Madrid continue to march on in the league and disposed of Bayern Munich after extra-time in their respective Champions League quarter-final. As the old trope goes, the form book will be thrown out the window of the bus as Barcelona make their way down the A-2 on Sunday morning.
Real Madrid were given an extra day of rest given the fact that their Champions League game was on Tuesday night but they needed extra-time to see of a pesky Bayern Munich side. They have no new injury worries to contend with but are without Raphael Varane and Pepe with Nacho and Sergio Ramos forming a makeshift, but effective, partnership in the centre of defense.
So often has Zidane opted for Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as his preferred three in midfield for the biggest game and there is no suggestion that he will change that for Barça's visit to the capital on Sunday.
Gareth Bale is back in contention, against the advice of the Real Madrid physical staff, as he pushed himself to the limit to make his return from injury in time for the biggest clash of the year. The Welshman might not be fit enough to start though and this could cause the only wrinkle of difference in Zidane's first choice XI when everybody is fit. Isco has earned a start given his performance during Real Madrid's victory over Sporting Gijón last weekend and he started against Bayern Munich too in what was a gruelling and impressive performance. Ronaldo and Benzema should accompany that third attacker, whoever it might be.
Real Madrid squad: Navas, Casilla and Yáñez; Carvajal, Ramos, Nacho, Marcelo and Danilo; Kroos, James, Casemiro, Kovacic, Modric, Asensio and Isco; Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale, Lucas Vázquez and Morata.
Barcelona trained with a full complement on Saturday morning before they took off for Madrid aside from Jeremy Mathieu, who has fallen out of favour under Luis Enrique after a number of questionable performances. The Barcelona manager went back to a 4-3-3 against Juventus with Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto on either side of Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Piqué. This, it would seem, is his best defensive four but he might choose to play a back three given the circumstances of the game.
The Asturian coach's best midfield is without question Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic but the Croatian was not impressive against Juventus and was hooked before the hour mark. The problem is that there is nobody to replace him even though his starting spot is not in doubt with André Gomes continuing to struggle and Denis Suárez is not seen as a viable option, it would seem.
Arda Turan trained with the group on Saturday but has not been given the all clear and might not have the required fitness to play in a game of such magnitude.
Up front might be where Luis Enrique's problems start. Neymar was suspended for getting sent off against Málaga and then received a further two-match ban for applauding the fourth official as he was walking to the dressing room. Barcelona put an appeal in at the 11th hour, which was rejected, leaving them with just the Sports Tribunal to convince. They are waiting on them to review their latest appeal, which could see him freed to play. In any case, Luis Enrique is ready to play with or without his star player but who replaces him, with Rafinha out injured, remains to be seen.
Lionel Messi is eyeing his 500th LaLiga goal in the game on Sunday and it would be fitting if he landed such a monumental record in the biggest game of the year as he always has a knack for finding the biggest stages for his most incredible feats.
Real Madrid vs Barcelona: potential line-ups
Real Madrid XI: Keylor, Carvajal, Nacho, Ramos, Marcelo, Modric, Casemiro, Kroos, Bale/Asensio, Benzema, Cristiano
Coach: Zinedine Zidane
Barcelona XI: Ter Stegen, Mascherano, Piqué, Umtiti, S. Roberto, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, J. Alba, Messi, L. Suárez
Coach: Luis Enrique
Real Madrid vs Barcelona live online: El Clásico betting
Real Madrid are the bookies' favourites to beat Barcelona at the Bernabéu and all but seal their first LaLiga title since 2012, while the possibility of a second Clásico stalemate of the 2016/17 league season is priced at just under 4/1.